Everything you’ll learn when you run a marathon

Sure, you’ll talk about it

In 2014, I had a fleeting mental fugue and volunteered to run the London Marathon.

To truncate a boring series of events: there was a place going spare, and the previous night I’d run 7 kilometres on a treadmill. Thrilling in this success, I claimed the place.

It was late January, and the race is in April; even after that 7km, I was months behind in training. Also two weeks later, I got dumped me on Valentine’s Day, and realised I’d much rather spend Saturdays slugging gin and crying than running circuits round Regent’s Park. As it turned out, the dismal spring weather that year was fortuitous as I could cry at the same time without anyone really noticing.

These are some of the other things I learned when I ran a marathon.

However much you train, you’ll ‘fail’ to train properly 

Creating a “training plan” reminded me of revising for my finals. Then, I lost hours creating revision timetables – blocking out a day to “learn” Shakespeare, and then spending that day tying and re-tying my hair in a ponytail in anguish as I tried to memorise a single four-line quote from the History plays. This time, I spent a lot of time creating Gdocs (“rest day”; “long run”; “short run”) and then moseying guiltily towards the bus stop instead of strapping on my trainers for a long run home from work. At the weekend, I’d compensate with two long runs, and start the week feeling like I’d been dropped from a great height, then dragged across a field by a frothing bull.

Like with revision, it all sort of came together in the end, and around the point when I stopped looking at the Gdoc and started being sensible about what I could manage. I ran when I felt like I could, and I stopped stamping my feet and throwing my arms around in frustration when I had to stop on training runs. I finished it in under four and a half hours. Remember: you can always walk.

You will try to both socialise and train

For a while, you will bravely, stubbornly, continue to drink, smoke, fling yourself across dancefloors and into other people’s beds when you are invited out. You will squint your eyes when someone suggests that this might be why you have to pause after 10k to throw up or spit up metallic phlegm.

Certainly, for a while it’s possible to both train and have a social life. Though you will be exhausted.


You will have a panic spiral 

I self-diagnosed every twinge, I read articles about unfortunate marathon runners on the internet. And thus about three weeks before the 26.2 mile showdown, I became pathological about the idea that I might have an undiagnosed heart condition. Obviously, this spiral was a displacement of my general anxiety about running 26.2 miles.

But embarrassment is a powerful factor

You will take incremental steps that you realise – retrospectively – were small, almost touching incentives to go through with the race. I made a JustGiving page; I invited people to my “post-marathon picnic”. I wrote articles about how I was running a marathon. Obviously, I could still have dropped out at the last minute, but I had started – unconsciously – to pull together a jigsaw of deterrents for flaking.

I made people come to my marathon picnic

I made people come to my marathon picnic and hug me

Training is actually really good for your mental health 

Physical pain is a convenient distraction from emotional pain.

Everyone has a story 

Sure, when I was just “going running” on a Saturday, none of my housemates really noticed or cared. Suddenly, when you are running the marathon, everyone has a story about running.

Things I heard about the London Marathon include:

  • “Blackwall Tunnel is where everyone stops to shit, because the crowd are not permitted in the tunnels.” One of my friends turned to me and said, eyes like saucers, thrilling in her gruesome scatological intel, that this stretch is – reputedly – like wading through a sewer. It wasn’t.
  • Another said that “didn’t matter because I was definitely going to shit myself”. I didn’t, alright?
  • “If the weather is good, Tower Bridge – the halfway point – will be like a pseudo-Somme.” Soldiers/runners – felled by dehydration, not heavy shelling –  lying on the road, bent double, like old beggars under sacks, knock-kneed, coughing like hags, etc. Actually, there were isolated people like this along the course, most of whom were being rescued by the philanthropists of St John’s Ambulance. But at no point was there a concentration of these people.
  • “Whatever happens, you will lose all your toenails.” I only lost one.

Carb loading isn’t as fun as you hoped

Carbs are a bit beige. Also, I got a bit worried I was going to get fat, which is another insight into my disordered mind, as I certainly should have been more worried about not finishing the race.

Before the race you will start bargaining with yourself

As I travelled to the start line in Greenwich, I remember focusing on my agency. “You still don’t have to do this,” I said to myself. “You can get to the start line and literally turn around and leave this fucking marathon behind. You could be home again in an hour.”

Obviously, I did it. If you can get that far, you’re going to do it.

You will start the race

Obviously, you start the race.

The first thirteen miles are – honestly – really fun

I’m doing it! I’m running! People are clapping and handing me Haribo! I’m a celebrity! Wait, did I just see a celebrity!

It isn’t until you reach the halfway point that you realise you have to do that all over again. Your face sets in grim resignation.

Those gels make you feel really sick – but they worked for me 

Someone told me that the gels are like elixirs, galvanising your sapped limbs and adding miles to your stamina. Someone else told me that they’d make me shit myself (AGAIN WITH THE SHITTING). As it turned out, they worked for me – when I gulped one down, I felt myself reanimating.

This might have been a placebo effect, but that is irrelevant if it worked. Importantly, this is not unilaterally the case. Use them in training to test them out. 

Put your name on your back

People will yell your name. Indeed, at some point, someone will yell your name at exactly the moment you’d been about to stop and start walking. I am usually an arch misanthrope but running a marathon made me realise some people are lovely.

Much of the race is a blur and afterwards you’ll say you loved it

It is said that women experience an instinctive amnesia about the unpleasantness of childbirth, and this is how many are able to have a second child after the often graphic trauma of their first. I cannot remember much of the second half of the race and imagine it is for similar reasons.

What’s more, I ballotted for this year’s marathon and was disappointed not to get a place.

But crossing the finishing line was INCREDIBLE


You’ll tell people you beat a minor celebrity’s time

Up yours, Ed Balls.


So clammy

Your back will hurt so, so, so, much

You think it’ll be the legs but I had to ask my best friend to slather Deep Heat all over my back for about three weeks after the race, and once I got someone to stand on my back to try and “click” it back into place.

Do not let anyone minimise your toenail 

A few days after the marathon, on the way to work, someone on the Tube stood on my nailless toe. I got to work, puce and sweating, and almost fainted. This sounds silly, because it is a toenail. However, I cannot stress how painful it was to lose a toenail. When I broke my ankle, the bone snapped apart so loudly I heard the crack. I took an ibuprofen and hopped around A&E for a few hours. I only cried when they told me it was broken and I would have to wear a cast, and then only because I thought I’d look “stupid”. When I lost a toenail, I almost collapsed.

The toenail isn’t a “cool” injury, like a fracture, or shin splints, or a sprain, so people think you’re being a pussy. Just ask them if they want to see your toenail.


Just eating some cashews because I burned 3000 calories no biggie

You will talk about it forever